It was over dinner with Valery Gergiev that Canadian architect Jack Diamond began the complicated task of designing the new Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.

It may seem surprising that a Canadian was chosen to design a Russian state-funded match for the historic Mariinsky Theatre. Gergiev, general and artistic director of the theatre, visited Diamond’s Four Seasons Centre, home of the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto, and was wowed. When Gergiev and Diamond met for dinner the following year, the two saw eye to eye on everything from acoustics to street continuity.

The new Mariinsky Theatre, officially called Mariinsky II, is located directly across the canal from the original Mariinsky Theatre. It will become one of the largest opera production and presentation facilities in the world, and will be home of the Mariinsky Opera, Orchestra and Ballet. The design boasts a rooftop amphitheatre, custom-designed Swarovski chandeliers and, the big piece: the gold and honey-coloured, 2,000-seat horseshoe auditorium.

Diamond took CBC Classical on a photo tour of the facility before catching a plane to St. Petersburg. Click "Open Gallery" to begin.

Like any major public project, the design has faced early criticism. Critics have compared the beige limestone façade to a swimming pool or supermarket. They haven’t seen the inside, so Diamond shrugs it off as "drive-by criticism." He stresses that critics want a "car crash building" that is so odd that it will cause accidents out front. His goal was restraint. Early acoustic tests have hushed media criticism. It’s the insides that matter.

The spectacular new facility opens this week with a lineup of performers that sparkle as brightly as the chandeliers. Gergiev sure knows how to pick a Diamond.

Hear more about the Mariinsky II on CBC Radio 2’s Tempo with Julie Nesrallah this week. You can also follow Tempo on Twitter and Facebook, or be in touch by email. Saturday Afternoon at the Opera will catch up with L'Opéra du samedi's Sylvia L'Ecuyer who's on the ground for the opening in St. Petersburg. Tune in post opera this Saturday at 4:15 PM (5:15 AT, 5:45 NT).


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posted by Michael Morreale on Apr 29, 2013